The man in the jaunty skimmer straw set off at a rakish angle was known as the connoisseur of historical junk, which he affectionately called "old stuff."
For more than three decades, Arthur G. Mansberger Sr., who died at 103 Wednesday at Church Hospital of an infection, made a career out of rescuing and later reselling interiors, woodwork, stained-glass windows, door knobs, paneling, shutters, flooring, fireplace mantles, winding staircases, Italian marble, chandeliers from Baltimore theaters, buildings and houses that were about to be demolished.
Known as Whitey and bearing more than a passing resemblance in voice to Jimmy Durante, he was probably the best-dressed junk man to ever operate in Baltimore.
In addition to his straw hat, which he wore summer and winter, he often was meticulously dressed in a starched white shirt and carefully knotted tie, which sported an old-fashioned diamond stick pin. He favored colorful waistcoats, which he wore with a gold watch chain and pocket watch.
"I like old stuff," he told The Sun in 1969. "I like history. That's why I'm a poor man. I learned history rather than arithmetic."
The Edgemere resident, who lived in a white bungalow with green trim, managed to fill his yard with ephemera. Like Fibber McGee and his famed closet, the bungalow's rooms were filled with all types of "stuff," including China figures, organs, books and dolls.
Mr. Mansberger began his career as a collector after retiring in 1964 from Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant, where he was a firefighter and inspector for 40 years.
When he learned that Ford's Theatre was about to be torn down that year, he returned home with furniture, bricks and other objects from the famed Baltimore theater. When the Stanley Theater on North Howard Street was demolished in 1965, he dragged home brass rails and heavy velvet theatrical curtains from the building for which he expressed a lifelong fondness.
"When I leave a house, there ain't much left," he told The Sun.
"I didn't want to see anything destroyed. I'd give it away before I'd see it busted up," he said.
Other notable Baltimore buildings that Mr. Mansberger collected objects from before the wrecking ball began swinging included the Deutsches Haus, the Marie Bauernschmidt and L. Manuel Hendler mansions and the St. James Hotel, which stood at Centre and North Charles streets.
One of Mr. Mansberger's greatest collecting coups occurred in 1976 when for $50 he purchased 40 bags of receipts and records that dated to the mid-1800s that were being removed from a basement storage room before renovation of City Hall began.
He carefully organized the documents, which chronicled such events as the paving of Thames Street with 22,150 blue Belgian blocks shipped to Baltimore in 1882 from Massachusetts, or 69 cents for 5 1/2 yards of mourning crape that was used to drape over the outside of City Hall after the death of Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Born in Berlin, Pa., Mr. Mansberger moved as a child to Morgantown, W. Va., where he was educated in a one-room school house. He left school at an early age and worked as a glassblower's helper and later was a rural mail carrier who rode his route on horseback.
For many years, he spent his summers and weekends in a cabin near the Conowingo Dam on the Susquehanna River. There, he gathered ginseng, a plant which is supposed to promote longevity, sexuality and soothe the nerves, which he brewed into a tea and drank.
A man of seemingly indefatigable energy, Mr. Mansberger was staking cords of wood at 95 and only stopped driving after turning 100. The last three years, he had experienced declining health.
Mr. Mansberger's first marriage ended in divorce.
Services were held yesterday
He is survived by his wife of 60 years, the former Dorothy Younger; a son, A. Glen Mansberger Jr. of Essex; three sisters, Theda Chamberlain of Watertown, N.Y., Betty L. Hall of Dundalk and Connie Eiler of Perry Hall; two sisters, Alice Brown of Morgantown and Goldie Maddox of Ohio; 10 grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; and six great-great-grandchildren.
Pub Date: 1/12/99